Duet: Part 1.

Friendship: a state of mutual trust and support. 

Synonyms: harmony, accord, understanding, rapport.

 

Ally and I Dec2015

Over the last several months while teaching, I’ve heard myself saying “Treat your horse as though he’s your friend.” This doesn’t come up with every horse and rider. And it doesn’t mean that people aren’t doing this to some degree; most of us have horses because we deeply care about and enjoy them. However, it is also the case that sometimes our human hardwiring takes over and we go from gentle and understanding to harsh and combative in almost the blink of an eye.

2014-04-07 22.15.04Once big emotions arise,  it can be very difficult to keep a level head and a soft touch. Overthinking and being caught up in the world between our ears can also create a barrier. So much so, that even if the horse does his best to connect with us, we can’t hear or feel it.

I believe, and am thankful, that this is why so many other modalities are being applied to horses these days. Everything from martial arts, to Tai Chi, to yoga; Neuro Linguistic Programming, breathing techniques, energy work and various bodywork methods.

We recognize that things aren’t as separate as they seem. What works for us, can also be applied to and work for, horses. We recognize that what we carry inside of us, finds its way out through us and into our horses. We recognize that breathing a little more slowly has vast and positive effects for both ourselves and our horse. We understand that a relaxed body is a more supple body, and with that our internal and external balance improves. We come to understand that if we practice how to be while we are away from our horses, once we are with them, things get easier. Things feel better. There’s less pressure on achieving perfection and more enjoyment of their being-ness.

tedder family

So what do we mean by “treat your horse as your friend?”

It means to recognize that, just like us, horses are capable of feeling many things. I don’t think it’s anthropomorphizing to say that horses feel fear and nervousness, worry and confusion . They bruise, they ache, they bleed, they get stiff, they shut themselves away when they are frightened but can’t escape.

Just like us, when we listen, treat them with respect and do our best to communicate clearly and consistently, they can relax. They can rely on us to provide information in a way they can understand, and if they can’t understand us, they can rely on us not to punish them for it.

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The wonderful news is, I believe that most horses want to connect and be with us. Horses are masters at harmony, accord, understanding and rapport  – if we give them the chance.

What does that chance look like? Here are some (but not all) ideas:
  •  Making our horse’s physical comfort a priority. From hooves to teeth and everything in between, we want to offer them the best we’ve got. This includes environment, food and companionship with other horses.
  • Being as skilled and knowledgeable as possible in a given momentso we can be clear and consistent in our interactions with them.
  • Spending time with them without an agenda.
  • Recognizing when we reach a point of anger, frustration, confusion, doubt or hopelessness while we are with our horse, then being able to stop in that moment and either put the horse away and try again another time, or pause, breathe and set that feeling aside so we can be in as joyfully neutral a place as possible.

There are reasons we become and remain friends with people. They  are supportive, don’t have an agenda for us, they are kind in their interactions, and they listen well. There are many many other reasons too, but for me these things are what I strive to bring to my horse, and certainly my family, friends and clients.

Horses, on the other hand, cannot choose with whom they interact. They can, however, choose whom to open up to, to give more than they have to and who to trust.
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“What if,” as one woman said to me with exasperation “they don’t act like my friend?!” My reply  was: “You are their friend, and this is what matters.”

Her statement (and the feeling with which she said it) has stayed with me for months. I’ve turned it over in my head and heart.  I have felt that age-old question arise too: how do we remain open in the face of something that scares us, or makes us mad, or (even worse) makes us look or feel foolish?

One of the intentions I have found to be helpful, is when it comes to horses, what they are doing is not personal.

Let me say that again: it is not personal. 

If your horse is doing things you don’t like or you aren’t looking for, he or she is either tired, in pain, confused or afraid. Everything a horse does is information, and I believe, an attempt to communicate with us. It is up to us whether we stop and listen, or carry on and hope the horse “gets over it.”

And just as with a friend who is lost, or scared or confused, we offer the horse help. Support. Understanding. Clarity.

These ways of consideration create doorways where there were once walls. Although no horse (and no person) is obligated to open themselves to you, to show all they have within them, to trust that their vulnerabilities and strengths have a safe place to rest with you, creating doorways leads to rooms we didn’t know were there.

For me,  this is where the good stuff is. When we carry ourselves in a way that others-horses or humans- can rely on, doors that were walls are opened. An eye that was dull sparks. The breath that was held, is released. What we call magic, relationship, and heart arises from the ashes of discord, fear and tension.  It’s all there.  Inside the horse, and inside you, too.
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Photo credits:
Photos 1, 4, 5: Crissi McDonald
Photo 2: Louise Thayer
Photo 3: Dustin Tedder
Photo 6: Lindsey Tedder 

About the Author

Posted by

A lifelong horse woman, learning how to listen to horses.

30 Comments

Beautifully said and such a gift when the friendship occurs. Always striving for that relationship of trust and respect. Thank you for sharing!

Thank you so much Crissi. This is rich with heart-felt information. It always helps to be reminded that each day with my horse is a present moment experience and your words did that for me today.

Such a lovely blog to sit down with after a long days work. So true and what I feel and think but have not really articulated before, even to myself. Thank you for sharing.

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy reading this and seeing the lovely pictures filled with so much peacefulness and love! Thank you for your observations and putting it into words for us.

As always. Nail on the head. This is something that I have struggled with in the case of one of my horses. I said to Mark once, “I don’t think she likes me.” He said, “She doesn’t like you. – She doesn’t not like you.” I was heartbroken to hear this, and initially took it the wrong way. But in the years since that conversation, I have come to realize that I am the one who hasn’t been a good friend to her. I demanded, I expected – and when she didn’t “perform,” I got frustrated. I am now, after having this horse in my life for going on 7 years, opening up to what she is trying to tell me. We still have a long way to go – because 7 years of being a demanding friend needs a lot of reparation. Fortunately for me, she’s a forgiving soul.

What a journey you and your mare are on! And yes, aren’t we so very fortunate that the hearts of horses are so big and forgiving? I am constantly touched by the knowledge that horses seem to know we are doing our best with what we have, and allow for that. Thank you for taking the time to read some of my thoughts!

Aren’t we all fortunate? And thank you for sharing that exchange with me. I’ve heard him say that to a few other folks – not many – but I don’t ever get to hear if that comment was something they looked at afterward or not. It sounds like you’ve done a great deal of looking at it, and it has informed how you are interacting with your mare in the present. These horses – I think as long as we are doing our best, that is what matters more to them than that we do it “right.”

“There are reasons we become and remain friends with people. They are supportive, don’t have an agenda for us, they are kind in their interactions, and they listen well.” We are fortunate indeed, if we come across a human friend such as you describe. Horses have no agenda. I think they are the best listeners–you can always trust them to keep your secrets and they have a grand sense of humor!! Thank you for your thoughtful writing.

Thank you, so very much, for reading and commenting. And you’re right: we are hugely fortunate when we come across a person who can befriend us in such ways. Most horses, on the other hand, will do the same because that is their very nature. Humbling, isn’t it?

Crissi, I so agree with your observations about the benefits to both horse and human when relationship/friendship is the cornerstone between parties. I just wish it were easier to maintain this focus when fear raises its ugly head. The thought of being tossed from 1000 pounds of frightened muscle sometimes short circuits my ability to stay completely calm and correctly read and react to what my horse is trying to tell me. My mantra of “relax your body and breath” reliably goes off in my brain under dicey circumstances; I’m just not sure my body is doing what my brain dictates!

Thank you, Laurie! It is indeed a daily and constant practice to manage our internal environs, especially when fear so effectively short circuits our ability to think and respond clearly. Your body is doing exactly what your brain dictates – the lower or “reptilian” brain (the brain stem) is only concerned with survival – heartbeat, breath, sending the danger signal. Once the lower part of the brain is online, access to the higher neocortex (the thinking / planning part of the brain) is much much harder. At that point, it’s better to dismount (if you’re riding – find a good time to stop and put the horse away if you’re already on the ground), walk and breathe until you feel better, and then try again. If you move your body every time you feel this kind of fear, you’ll do your nervous system a huge favor, and decrease the amount of fear you have the next time you go to ride. I’m going through this process too, after my wreck almost two years ago. Although I still get nervous (and I doubt I’ll ever have the kind of courage I did before my accident), it isn’t debilitating.

I appreciate your writing about your experience, and reading this big ol’ long reply!

Horses have been a part of my life since I was 12 years old. Now, at almost 60, I recently had a horse pass through my life that did not want to, well, do most anything. He was aggressive, threatening to charge, bite and kick. Under saddle, he was also becoming “threatening”. A combination of tough love and kindness was not working. After a year of this, I had to make the decision to move him on. Some horses are just not worth the effort while fearing for your safety. This was a young gelding and I believe he did not have the proper handling during his most formative years, and/or this was just his disposition. This holds true for all animals. There are the good and the bad. We can’t fix them all with our good intentions. Sorry.

Hi Marge – I actually quite agree with you. After working with thousands of horses, it is a difficult truth that not all of them can be saved, or rehabilitated. I would say it’s not the norm, but it certainly happens. I am glad to hear that you recognized this before you or anyone else got seriously injured, and moved the gelding along. It’s not worth it to work with any animal whose only motivation is to cause damage.

Thank you starting a blog. You know how to put into words what we all feel and experience. Only having met with you once, you made a huge impact on me. You introduced me to recognizing the power of intent, breathing, and all thought. Thinking in “the we” was, and is, a huge breakthrough for me. For someone that cares so deeply for animals as I do, I was in disbelief as to how selfish and demanding I had been while in the company of my horse. Thanks you for your expertise. My horse Sammy thanks you as well!
I so hope to work with you again in the near future.

Thank you so very much, Shelley – I’m happy that you enjoyed the blog. I would love to find time to get together with you and your beautiful horse again – you’re both fun to work with and there’s so much to share about this work. I appreciate your taking the time to let me know how you felt about the latest blog!

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